Music Meter Monday: Atlas Genius & Their Unexpected Rise

Posted October 8

Welcome to another edition of Music Meter Monday, in which we profile bands who are climbing MTV’s Music Meter charts. This week, we chatted with Keith Jeffrey, lead singer of Australian brother act Atlas Genius, about breaking out via blogs, playing tunes with your brothers and the power of Nirvana (the band, not the religious concept).

The band — composed of brothers Keith, Steven and Michael, as well as Darren Sell — dropped their first EP, Through the Glass, in June. That record included Atlas Genius’s breakout single, “Trojans,” a tune that first gained traction online and later helped to garner the band a record deal with Warner Brothers.

Listen to that fateful tune below, and read on for our Q&A with Keith.

So I usually like to ask bands this to get an idea of how they got interested in music: What’s your earliest musical memory?

My strongest early musical memory was the first time I heard Nirvana play ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ I was really quite young at the time and a friend of mine had the CD and we were in his rumpus room. We were playing computer games and he put on this CD and it was the strongest time I ever had that, ‘What is that?’ [feeling]. You just needed to know what it was. Normally music sort of creeps up on you, but that was like a sledgehammer. I was probably eight… I’m not sure.

Is that when you knew that you wanted to be a musician? I know you all were studying architecture and business until pretty recently.

I think it kind of sowed the seed. I wasn’t playing guitar at that point, but I realized how good music could be and how powerful it could be. So shortly after — I think within a year or two — I started playing guitar. So I think it sowed the seed for music.

Were your brothers also into music? How did you guys end up playing together?

Well, I mean, we were in a house where there was always music playing. So we were exposed to it really early. I think that being the eldest one, the younger brothers tend to follow in the older brother’s footsteps as a rule.

Did you guys have bands when you were younger? Or was Atlas Genius the first band?

I remember when I was in high school I had a few jam bands — you get together five or six times and never really play a show. Just for the love of it. I think there was a kind of punk band and blues band. At one point I was playing a few shows with a jazz band. It was pretty varied.

So how did you guys come upon the sound that you have now?

Well, I think it’s a natural process where you write songs and the first songs you write invariably aren’t very good, but you strive to make those songs better — and more like the songs that you yourself want to hear. It’s that craft of making music that you would want to listen to, and the more you do it, the closer you get to being able to make music that you want to hear.

You’re never 100% satisfied, that’s what keeps you going and wanting to write more songs. I think you get closer and closer the more you do it — to the point where it’s a sound that pleases the members of the band. Our sound is a blend of most bands that we really dig. We take sounds from different bands and put them together in a way I think most bands tend to do, and it’s a result of writing a lot of songs and hearing a lot of bands and really working out what we like about certain bands.

You were all in school around the time the band started taking off, right? How did that happen — how did it happen that you were like, ‘Oh, I can do this as a job’? What was that moment like?

It took a while for us to kind of take it seriously. There was this interest happening for the music that was really exciting, but we wanted to be careful about getting our hopes up. The music industry can be a fickle game and we thought, ‘Well, we’ll see how this plays out over the next few months.’ It started with a few blogs and then it got bigger and bigger. After a few months, we kind of thought, ‘Well, this feels like something that we can really focus on.’ So from that point on we decided that we’d put school on hold and really focus on music.

So you said that it all started with a few blogs. I heard that you put your single, ‘Trojans,’ up on SoundCloud and it took off from there. Was that the first song you were really happy with as Atlas Genius?

Kind of, yeah. We booked this studio and that was the first song that we were like, ‘We like this song, this should go out there.’ It took us a few weeks to almost get the courage up to put it out, because you’re never quite sure. You can think that something’s good, but it might be all in your head. So it took us a few weeks to get to that point where we thought, ‘OK, it’s good enough, let’s put it out there.’ We put it out there without any real expectations, so that’s why it was really surprising that blogs found it. It wasn’t even like we sent it out to anyone. It was just on a couple of websites. That’s the amazing part of it.

Oh, really? It was just on SoundCloud?

It was on SoundCloud and it was on the Australian radio website Triple J — their Unearthed site where anyone can basically put their songs up. It’s like an unsigned band directory. So we put it up on a few things like that and it sat there. We literally did not email anyone.

So you’re the main songwriter for the band? How did you get into writing lyrics?

I’ve always been fascinated by all areas of music production — not just the actual songwriting. How songs are put together is just fascinating. It was just an obsession — something that I’m really attracted to. The whole craft.

[My songs] come from a really personal place. I sometimes think that it’s almost better for people to form their own impressions about the song rather than it being direct. The song really should speak for itself rather than coming with a pamphlet that explains what the song is about. It should be judged on its own merits and the song should stand up or fall down.

So why do you think people were so into ‘Trojans’? What do you think it is about that song that people liked so much?

That’s a very difficult question to answer, because we’re so close to that song that we don’t hear it the way other people hear it. I knew at the time of writing lyrics and melody for that that it just felt really right — it got out everything about how I was feeling about that time. It felt like it was getting across what I was trying to say. And not all songs are like that. Sometimes you can write a song and at the end you’re like, ‘Well, all right, kind of. It’s OK, but, it doesn’t get across what I was feeling.’ That’s the craft of songwriting there. The perfect song is the song that gets out exactly how you’re feeling.

So you guys have an LP coming out soon. When is that happening? This fall?

I think it’s going to be pushed back a few months. It should arrive sooner rather than later.

Is there a name yet?

We’ve got a name that we’re sort of tentatively [using], but it’s under wraps. We’re very cagey about that.

Image courtesy of Big Hassle